House flies are not the kind of insects you want hanging around your kitchen and touching down on your bench or your food. Mostly we just shoo them away without a second thought. But when you consider that flies hang out at dumps, rubbish heaps and sewers, it may make you more vigilant about keeping them at bay.
There’s also a more sinister side to house flies than just being an annoyance. They can transmit serious diseases via their feet and eating habits. This is why it’s important to try and reduce the fly population in your home and especially limit their contact with people and food.
How Flies Eat Food
Flies will travel up to 30 km to find food, though they usually stick around the area that they’ve hatched, and aren’t fussy about what they eat. Flies will happily ingest waste or rotten matter as well as fresh food like fruits, vegetables and meat. They’re also very attracted to sugar. They use their feet as tasters, and these are reported to be 10 million times more sensitive to sugar than the human tongue. So sweet treats will be on their radar!
Flies can only ingest liquid food, so they need to regurgitate saliva to liquefy solid food. This liquid is then ingested via the proboscis which sucks it up like a straw.
A house fly on your kitchen wall eyeing up tonight’s steak may have been previously feeding on faeces or rotten fish. Whatever they land on sticks to their feet, so you really don’t want them using your dinner as a runway!
What Diseases Do House Flies Transmit?
Flies can transmit some 65 diseases to humans by their feeding habits and because they’re able to access a wide number of territories. Luckily, some of the more serious diseases are rarely spread by flies in Australia. However, the potential is there if the microbes of the disease are carried from the fly’s feet, vomitus or excretions, onto food we eat.
Anthrax – bacteria causing lesions, skin boils and lung inflammation.
Cholera – toxin infecting the small intestine causing severe diarrhoea and vomiting.
Leprosy – a chronic infection that affects the skin and causes damaged nerves in the limbs.
Tuberculosis – bacteria that infects the lungs and destroys lung tissue.
Typhoid Fever – a bacterial infection that spreads throughout the body affecting many organs.
Yaws – a chronic infection that affects the skin, bones and cartilage.
Keeping Your Home Safe From Flies
Even with your best efforts, house flies are unlikely to be completely eradicated. But you can strive to reduce populations to limit contact with people and food, thereby preventing diseases. Good hygiene is the best way to do this, so keep your kitchen clean, tidy and free of food scraps/crumbs. Don’t leave food lying around and store leftovers immediately in the fridge.
Installing fly screens over doors and windows is an effective way to keep flies from entering the home. Electric fans can blow them outside or away from food. Alternatively, there is a variety of aerosols and fly traps on the market which can be somewhat useful depending on the time of year. Find out more about methods of fly control.